‘Fortitude’ isn’t a word we use much nowadays. We tend to opt for ‘courage’ or ‘bravery’, or if we want to be a trifle grandiloquent, ‘valour’. But fortitude, the fourth gift of the Holy Spirit, and the one for which we pray today, has a very precise meaning. It is the strength and courage that enables us to overcome fear and pain in adversity: the courage of the martyr bearing witness to Truth, of Christ on the Cross. There is nothing reckless or daredevil about fortitude. It does not make us seek out danger or act irrationally. St Thomas Aquinas ranks fortitude as the third cardinal virtue, one which serves prudence and justice. It is thus an enabler. We see what we ought to do by exercising the virtues of prudence and justice, then fortitude enables us to do it without giving way to crippling fear.
Perhaps today, as we pray for this gift of the Spirit, we could reflect on our lives and the occasions when we have confused fortitude with sheer bravado or when we have presumed on the presence of the Holy Spirit in a way that was anything but godly. Fortitude gives us the courage to face the truth about ourselves; and once we can face that, I suspect we can face anything.